It’s been only a month since I first traveled to China, and have started reporting on tidbits about China and things Chinese from the ground up. Many of my friends, colleagues and readers told me that a flood of comments posted by EE Times community members’ after each of my China stories is actually more revealing than my reporting.
I take no offense, because I feel the same way.
A former colleague of mine, now resident in Beijing, wrote to me this morning: “I am enjoying the comments your China stories are eliciting almost as much as the stories. Some are funny and some disturbing… A bit frightening is how little both sides understand each other.”
I couldn’t agree more.
China remains largely a mystery to most of us – me included. I still know very little, and the more people I interview, the less I feel as though I know their real stories.
Similarly, I find Chinese people’s understanding is limited, especially when it comes to how fearful the U.S. engineering community is about China.
Both sides remain caught up in pre-conceived notions of what the other side is like; they cherry-pick anecdotal evidence (which is often a valuable piece in a bigger picture), and use it to reinforce what they think they know.
I think it’s time to take a deep breath and step back – for all of us.
Here are a few good examples. Every time I write anything about China’s speed of design and production – which to me is one of the vital elements of Chinese success, I get reactions from our readers about the poor quality of China’s products. And this is a salient criticism. I get a steady flow of feedback – not just on our site, but in casual conversation – about an Android phone someone just bought in China; and already it’s going haywire.
When I met in Beijing a vice president of engineering who works for a U.S. chip company, he was emphatic: “Junko, the quality of some of those phones is bad. But this isn’t because they can’t get it right; it’s because they don’t want to.”
A little stumped by what I thought I heard him say, I asked, “What do you mean? Are you saying that they are intentionally making bad phones?”
No, he said. “They are more interested in turning out more phones they can sell -- quickly. It’s just that they don’t want to take the time to make a perfect phone.”
He pointed out the glaring exception to the stereotype: “Guess where all the iPhones are coming from? They are made by Foxconn in China. It’s not like Chinese don’t know how to manufacture good quality products.”
Meanwhile, I received an e-mail this afternoon from Allen Wu, ARM China’s president. Referring to my story, "Why TI does MCU design in Shanghai," Wu wrote to me: “I fully agree with your comments on ‘China Speed.’ Products don’t necessarily need to be designed in China, but companies needs to respond in ‘China Speed’ to be successful,” especially as China becomes one of the leading markets for the chip industry, he explained.
Wu noted, “If you look at the start-up culture in the Valley, I would put ‘speed,’ fast decision-making and response to market, as one of the clear top reasons for success --along with passion, commitment, etc.”
Wu’s conclusion is that the principles of Silicon Valley work equally well in China, from winning markets to winning the hearts and minds of employees. It really comes down to the ability to adjust execution to local markets and environments in ‘China speed.’
His point that China and Silicon Valley are driven – perhaps to a fault -- by “speed” is well taken. I hasten to agree.
What’s different, though, in my observation is that China’s speed is multiplied several times now, largely because China has elements in its ‘ecosystem’ – ranging from component suppliers to software developers and contract manufacturers – who can accelerate even further. Their end products eventually get to the market faster, too.
The story of China speed vs. China quality is something we’re going to keep probing at EE Times. Your comments and analysis – even the anecdotal stuff – are always welcome. But let’s hold off, on both sides, being too judgmental about each other — until we’ve all learned a little more.
Chanj - You make an excellent comment and I agree. Having worked in quality control in China for over 12 years, it's clear to me that China really is changing in regard to their ability to both produce quality product and innovate. That said, one point here is that OVERSIGHT is key when working with a China manufacturer.
Below, Dylan points out that the Apple success story (of making a quality product in China) is one that is a great example of how a company has produced super high quality product in China. And Apple's key here is clear, consistent, and transparent directions, and oversight.
Companies like Apple and those that have been successful in China use services from from 3rd parties to monitor and inspect the quality of the product, such as these: http://www.intouch-quality.com/services/product-inspections-in-china/product-specific-inspection-types/electric-component-inspections/
"The Chinese will never say 'NO' to your requirement. They will match your price with the "appropriate " quality.". Very well said. This is the point. No one manufacturer wants to decline a customer at ANY pricesin China. They can always find a way to solve it. This is a resilience developed under great competition. Think about those Chinese businessmen who became millionares by manufacturing needles and thread.
The primary reason for poor quality is profit taking in the production to retail chain.
In the old days, a US made product made by a brand-name producer might have cost, say, $3 to produce and sold for $10. It was worth the brand-name producer's effort to spend an extra 50c on QA etc to reduce returned goods.
Now, the product is made in China for $1. There is less margin for that 50c of QA etc. The brand-name producer makes more profit than they do. If they get returned goods then it is almost pain free to send a replacement.
The manufacturer is under increased pressure to reduce their costs and remain profitable as wages rise. No wonder they will shave pennies off cost which will result in inferior products.
Nowhere is this more evident than in power tools. If you buy a $20 power sander, odds are that the bearings fail first. If that bearing was replaced with a slightly better bearing (say 20c more) it would last as well as a $100 sander. But the manufacturer is being squeezed. He's only being paid $2 for a sander and that 20c is probably enough to make a loss.
If you want to blame anyone for quality, blame the middle men.
I love hearing about your personal experience working with Huawei engineers, Chanj.
Nothing can beat the first-hand experience to understand what's going on.
As for your comment about R&D in China, I agree...that seems to be the case most of the time.
However, things are beginning to change as a multinational like Marvell investing in installing big R&D teams right there in Shanghai and Nanjing.
See the story below:
As I understood China while being there on routine visits for over a year, is that Chinese can make a good product as well as a cheap product depending upon how much you are ready to pay for it. If you bargain for a cheaper price you will get a inferior product but if you demand quality you must be ready to shell out the right price. The Chinese will never say 'NO' to your requirement. They will match your price with the "appropriate " quality. And this they do it so smartly that unless you are an expert buyer you will feel never know it.
Personally, I believe a most important factor is not mentioned here yet---the "Performance/Price Ratio". Very few people are thirsty to extreme Performance(high quality) and very few people to extreme Price(very cheap) either. Most of us want a reasonable quality at a reasonable price, i.e, a reasonable Ratio. From this perspective, Chinese products have a very good Performance/Price Ratio over all.
But, these are Apple products, made to Apple specs, and managed by Apple. On the other hand, products designed by Chinese companies, mfgd by Chinese companies with their own QA standards, that's a totally different story.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.